June 09, 2003
Story: Cory -- CONCLUSION
He stared at her, stunned into bovine silence. She pinched his cheek and shoved the papers into his hands. "Bon voyage, mon ami," she said. She kissed each cheek, then pulled out a compact and fixed the concealer on her lip.
Paris in springtime was everything it was meant to be and more. Roscoe couldn't sit down in a cafe without being smartmobbed by unwirer groupies who wanted him to sign their repeaters and tell them war-stories about his days as a guerrilla fighter for technological freedom. They were terribly, awfully young, just kids, Marcel's age or younger, and they were heartbreaking in their attempts to understand his crummy French. The girls were beautiful, the boys were handsome, and they laughed and smoked and ordered him glasses of wine until he couldn't walk. He'd put on twenty pounds, and when he did the billboard ads for Be, Inc. and Motorola, they had to strap him into a girdle. "Le choix Américain," in bold sans-serif letters underneath a picture of him scaling a buildingside with a Moto batarang clenched in his teeth.
Truth be told, he couldn't even keep up with it all. Hardly a week went by without a new business popping up, a new bit of technological gewgaggery appearing on the tables of the Algerian street-vendors by the Eiffel Tower. He couldn't even make sense of half the ads on the Metro.
But life was good. He had a very nice apartment with a view and a landlady who chased away the paparazzi with stern French and a broom. He could get four bars of signal on his complimentary Be laptop from the bathroom, and ten bars from the window, and the throng and thrum of the city and the net filled his days and nights.
He was a foreigner. A curiosity. A fish, transplanted from the sea to MarineLand, swimming in a tank where the tourists could come and gawp. He slept fitfully, and in his dreams, he was caged in a cell at Leavenworth, back on the inside, in maximum security, pacing the yard in solitary stillness.
We woke to the sound of his phone trilling. The ring was the special one, the one that only a one person had the number for. He struggled out of bed and lunged for his jacket, fumbled the phone out.
"Roscoe! God, I know it's early, but God, I just had to tell you!"
He looked at the window. It was still dark. On his bedstand, the clock glowed 4:21.
"What? What is it?"
"God! Valenti's been called to testify at a Senate hearing on Unwiring. He's stepping down as chairman, I just put in a call to his office and into his dad's office at the MPAA. The lines were *jammed*. I'm on my way to get the Acela into DC."
"You're covering it for the *Journal*?"
"Better. I got a *book deal*! My agent ran a bidding war between Simon and Schuster and St. Martin's until three AM last night. I'm hot shit. The whole fucking thing is coming down like a house of shit. I've had three Congressional staffers fax me discussion drafts of bills -- one to fund $300 million in DARPA grants to study TCP/IP, another to repeal the terrorism statutes on network activity, and a compulsory license on movies and music online. God! If only you could see it."
"That's -- amazing," Roscoe said. He pictured her in the cab on the way to Grand Central, headset screwed in, fixing her makeup in her compact, dressed in a smart spring suit, off to meet with the Hill Rats.
"It's incredible. It's better than I dreamed."
"Well..." he said. He didn't know what to say. "See if you can get me a pardon, OK?" The joke sounded lame even to him.
"What?" There was a blare of taxi horns. "Oh, crap, Roscoe, I'm sorry. It'll work out, you'll see. Clemency or amnesty or something."
"We can talk about it next month, OK?" She'd booked the tickets the week before, and they had two weeks of touring on the continent planned.
"Oh, Roscoe, I'm sorry. I can't do it. The book's due in 12 weeks. Afterward, OK? You understand, don't you?"
He pulled back the curtains and looked out at the foreign city, looking candlelit in the night. "I understand, sweetie," he said. "This is great work. I'm proud of you."
Another blare of horns from 6,000 miles away. "Look, I've got to go. I'll call you from the Hill, OK?"
"OK," Roscoe said. But she'd already hung up.
He had six bars on his phone, and Paris was lit up with invisible radio waves, lit up with coverage and innovation and smart, trim boys and girls who thought he was a hero, and 6,000 miles away, the real unwiring was taking place.
He looked down at his slim silver phone, glowing with blue LEDs, a gift from Nokia. He tossed it from hand to hand, and then he opened the window and chucked it three storeys down to the street. It made an unsatisfying clatter as it disintegrated on the pavement.
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"Thought so," she said, but made no further comment as he fastened the new plates in place.
Finally he stood up. "Okay, let's go," he said.
"What's the plan?" She paused, hand on door handle.
"The plan is to get away from here. Then figure out what to do next." He glanced at her sidelong, calculating. "I think you'll be alright, whatever happens. But that little idiot --" He realised his hands were shaking.
Sylvie climbed into the truck. Roscoe sat for a minute, concentrating on getting a grip on himself. Then he turned the ignition key.
He drove slowly, starting every time he saw moving shadows, the headlights of other vehicles. One time the road took a bend and he passed a police car, stationary at the kerb. He nearly jumped out of his skin, but forced back the urge to put his foot down or even turn his head -- *give no sign*, he told himself.
Sylvie sighed as the police car vanished in the rear view. "You're going to go the rendezvous, like you told him?" she asked.
"Yeah. More than the little shit deserves, but I owe him that much. We've got to sort this out together." He tapped the steering wheel. "I'll have to ditch the truck. Report it stolen, maybe. If I can spin an airtight alibi --"
Roscoe stared at her. Sylvie's face was half in shadow, half a flat orange wash-out from the street lamps. "I don't trust him. I think he's a provo."
"What?" Roscoe shook his head then looked back at the road. "He's rash and impulsive, is all. A bit young." They were not far from Main Street, and he began looking around for somewhere to park the truck. "Listen, we're going to have to walk a ways. You up to an hour on foot?"
"A hike in the dark? Yeah, I guess so." Sylvie sniffed. "If you go to that Donut House they'll arrest you. Terrorist charges."
Roscoe didn't dignify her paranoia with a response. Instead he pulled over. "Open the glove locker. There's a can of foam cleaner and some wipes inside, pass 'em over."
"If you want." She sounded resigned. Roscoe focussed on polishing the wheel and gearshift handle. Old prints he didn't care about, but he didn't want to leave fresh ones. "There have been arrests you haven't heard about."
Roscoe opened his door and climbed out. The air was freezingly cold, trying to suck the life from his face and lungs. He picked up the trash bag from the back and paused, about to close the door. Instead he left it open, forcing himself to leave the keys dangling enticingly in the ignition. "You coming?" he asked.
Sylvie hurried to catch up. "There's a guy called Dennis Morgan, out west," she said quietly. "Don't know where he is, the feds won't say -- they pulled him in on firearms charges but all the warrants, search and seizure, went through a special FEMA courthouse that won't talk to us. We tried FOIA notices and got knocked back. Dennis had no record of violent offenses, like you, he was just an unwirer, but they charged him with attempted murder of a federal agent then stuck him in a hole so deep we can't find him."
Roscoe slowed, hearing her panting for breath.
"*Secret* trials, Roscoe, special terrorism courts. They don't call them that, but all the records are sealed and I can't even find the defense attorneys in the goddamn phone book. 'S a woman called Caitlin Delaney in Washington State, they found kiddie porn in her house and a meth lab in her garage after they shot her resisting arrest, you know? They made her out to be some kind of gangster. She was fifty, Roscoe, and she had multiple sclerosis, and her back lot just happened to have line of sight to the frontier."
Roscoe slowed even more, until he felt Sylvie walking beside him. "FCC, Roscoe, they've been making sure we know all about these dangerous terrorists, did you know that? But I made some phone calls from payphones to local stringers, had them do some digging. Unwirers are disappearing. Their patch gets too visibly wired and then they vanish, leaving behind guns and drugs and kiddie porn. That's the *real* story I'm here to cover. Roscoe, if you go to that donut joint and Marcel is what I think he is, you won't be coming out alive."
She took his hand and stopped. Roscoe felt himself halt. His shoulders were tense and the lining of his jacket felt icy-slick with freezing sweat. "What do you want?"
Her breath steamed in the air before him. "I don't want you to get yourself killed," she said. Up close he could see the scar on her lip, the smudged foundation on her cheek. "Shit." She leaned against him and put her chin on his shoulder, nosing in like a small animal in search of warmth. "Look, come up to my room. We can discuss it there."
The Days Inn was a hell of a lot closer than the Donut House near the Rainbow Bridge, that was for sure. Being scared half out of his skin and on the run was incredibly tiring, and Roscoe was perversely grateful to Sylvie for leading him back to the motel room, even though a nagging paranoid corner of his head kept shrieking that she, not Marcel, was the agent provocateur, that she'd get him into bed and G-men with signal meters and search warrants would erupt from the closet --
But it wasn't like that, it wasn't like that at all.
They ended up naked, in bed together. And before anything much could happen, Roscoe was asleep, snoring quietly, dead to the world. He didn't notice it, actually: what he noticed was waking up to the dim red glow of the alarm clock's flickering digits, Sylvie's face limned against the pillow next to him with the incipient glow of hell-fire, digits flickering towards seven o'clock and an appointment with an uncertain future.
"Hey. Wake up."
"Mm-hum." Sylvie rolled towards him for a warm moment, then her eyes opened. "We didn't?" She looked hopeful.
"Not yet." He ran one hand along her back, cupping her buttocks with a sense of gratified astonishment. *How did this happen to us?* He wondered, a thought that always hit him between the eyes when he found himself in bed with a new woman. *It's been a long time.*
Her gaze travelled past him, settling on the clock. "Oh shit." She hugged him, then pulled back. "There's never enough time. Later?"
"After the meet-up, when I know if it's safe to go --"
"Shut up." She leaned over and kissed him hard, almost angrily. "This is so unprofessional -- look, if I'm wrong I apologize, alright? But if you go there I think you're walking into a sting. I don't think you should go near the place. If I had a repeater I could stake it out with a webcam, but --"
"A repeater?" Roscoe sat up. "There's one in my sack."
"Oh *good*." She rolled out of bed and stretched. He couldn't take his eyes away from her. "Listen, let's freshen up and get outa here." She grinned at him, friendly but far from the intimacy of a minute ago, and he feld a tangible sense of lost possibilities slipping away: "let's get the donut joint wired for video. Then we can go grab some coffee and figure out what to do next."
Signal strength near the bridge was good. Roscoe just glommed his repeater onto a street lamp above eye level, to boost the final hundred yards to the block. "They'll spot it immediately, probably take it down later today," he said. "Hope this is worth it."
"It will be," she reassured him fiercely, before striding away towards the donut joint. He stared after her, a slim figure bundled in improbable layers of cold-weather gear, and resisted the impulse to run after. If the cops were looking for anyone it'd be him, a known parole violator, not a single young female on the far side of the road. Plan was to fasten the cam to the back of a road sign opposite the doorway, use cable ties to keep it on target. He glanced at his watch: seven zero seven hours. *Cutting it fine, if it's a stake-out* ...
Roscoe took a walk around the block, stamping his feet against the chill, trying not to dwell on the unpleasant possibilities. His heart gave a little lurch as he came back around the alleyway and saw Sylvie walking back down the street towards him, but she was smiling and as she caught up with him she grabbed his arm. "Come on, there's a Starbucks on the next block," she said.
"I *hate* Starbucks," he complained.
"Yeah, but it's indoors and off the street," she explained. "So you're going to put up with it this once, okay?"
They shed gloves and caps as they went in past the Micronet booths and the pastry counter. Sylvie ordered a couple of large lattes. "Is the mezzanine open?" she asked.
"Sure, go on up." The gum-chewing help didn't even look up.
At the top of the stairs, in a dark corner well back from the shop front, Sylvie produced her phone and began fiddling with it. "Let's see. Ah ... uh-huh. Here it is." She turned it so he could see the tiny colour display. The front of the donut shop was recognizable. "It does voice over IP, too, lots of people use these instead of laptops. What time do you make it?"
"Seven thirty," Roscoe said automatically. Just as a gray minivan pulled up in front of the shop and disgorged a bunch of guys in trenchcoats and one very recognizable figure. His stomach lurched. "Who are those guys? What's Marcel doing with --" He stopped. Further comments seemed redundant.
"Let's see who else turns up," Sylvie suggested, sipping her latte.
Marcel went into the donut store. Two of the men in trenchcoats followed him. Most of the others moved out of frame, but one of them was just visible, hurrying down the alley at the side of the store.
Nothing happened for a couple of minutes, then a police car pulled up. Two uniforms got out, but as they headed for the door one of the trenchcoats came out. Words were exchanged, and angry gestures. The uniforms went back to their car and drove away: the trenchcoat headed back inside. Sylvie sniffed. "Serve 'em right, stopping for donuts on your tax dollars."
Roscoe tensed. "I think you were right," he said slowly.
Sylvie beamed at him. "Oh, you haven't seen nothing yet!"
It was five minutes to eight. Roscoe went downstairs for another coffee, his feed dragging, as if in a daze. Everything seemed to be closing in, going nightmarishly wrong. *I'm stuffed*, he realised. *I'm going to have to run --*
"Roscoe?" He heard her voice.
"Coming." He turned back and hurried upstairs. "What is it?"
"Watch." She pointed the phone display where he could see it. A pickup truck roughly the same colour and age as Roscoe's drew up in front of the donut store.
"Hey, that's not --"
"I told you we employ stringers. Right?"
A man wearing a jacket and cap climbed out of the cab. He looked a bit like Roscoe, if you were watching via a covert webcam from across the street. He turned and looked at the camera, but he was too far from it for Roscoe to see if he winked or not. Then he turned and went in.
Trenchcoats boiled out from behind trashcans like so many black leather cockroaches. They swarmed the truck and blocked the doorway and two of them with guns and warrant cards drawn covered the parking lot. There was chaos and motion for almost a minute, then another trenchcoat barreled out of the door and started yelling instructions at them. The guns vanished. Marcel appeared in the doorway behind him, pointing. Two of the trenchcoats began to cross the road, heading towards the camera.
"I think that's enough," said Sylvie, and killed the feed. Then she hit one of the speed-dial buttons on her phone. It rang twice. "Bonjour. Ou est le --"
Roscoe shook his head. He felt approximately the way he imagined a tuna fish might feel with a wooden deck under one flank and the cruel sun beating mercillessly down on the other, gills gasping in a medium they'd never evolved to survive exposure to. Sylvie was speaking in rapid-fire French, arguing with somebody by the sound of it, while he was drowning on dry land.
Sylvie finished her call and closed her phone with a snap. She laid her hand across his: "you're sorted," she said, smiling.
"Huh?" Roscoe started, setting the empty coffee cups.
"That was the French consulate in Toronto. I set it up in advance so they'd see the webcam. My editor, too. If you can cross over into Canada and get to the consulate you've got diplomatic asylum, genuine refugee status." She reached into her pocket and pulled out a small box; it unfolded like intricate brushed-aluminium origami, forming a keyboard for her to plug the phone into. "We're going to hit the front page of the Journal tomorrow, Roscoe. It's all documented -- your background, Marcel, the gun, the stake-out, the whole lot. With a witness." She pointed a thumb at herself. "We've been looking for a break like this for *months*." She was almost gloating, now: "that bastard Valenti isn't going to know what's hit him, did I tell you my boss went into journalism in the wake of Watergate and he's been looking for something like this ever since?"
Roscoe sat and stared at her dumbly.
"Cheer up! You're going to be famous -- and they won't be able to put you away! All we have to do is get you to Montreal. I'm told there's a crossing at the Mohawk Reservation
"Cheer up! You're going to be famous -- and they won't be able to put you away! All we have to do is get you to Montreal. There's a crossing set up at the Mohawk Reservation, and I've got a rental car in the lot next door to the Days Inn. While I'm at it, can you sign these?" She thrust a bundle of papers at him and winced apologetically: "exclusive contract with the Wall Street Journal. It covers your expenses -- flight included -- plus fifteen grand for your story. I tried to hold out for more, but you know how things are." She shrugged.
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June 07, 2003
Note to the confused. Charlie and I have decided to try it my way for now, though he's going to try a rewrite if it bugs him too much.
"Not yet, you aren't," the voice said again, this time without the amplification, much closer. Roscoe looked in the rear-view at the sillhouette of the woman cop, flipping her handcuffs on her belt, stepping carefully on the ice surface. In her bulky parka, she could have been any state trooper, but the way she flipped her cuffs --
"Go go go," hissed Marcel from the back seat. "*Vite*!"
"Sit tight," Sylvie said.
From the back seat, a click. A gun being cocked. Roscoe kept his eyes on the rear-view, and mumbled, "Marcel, if that is a gun I just heard, I am going to shove it up your fucking ass and pull the trigger."
Roscoe rolled down his window. "Evening, officer," he said. Her face was haloed by the light bouncing off her breath's fog, but he recognized her. Had seen her, the day before, hanging off the edge of the gorge, aiming an antenna Canadawards.
"Evening sir," she said. "Evening, ma'am. Nice night, huh? Doing some bird-watching?"
Made. Roscoe's testicles shriveled up and tried to climb into his abdomen. His feet and hands weren't cold, they were *numb*. He couldn't have moved if he tried. He couldn't go back --
Another click. A flashlight. The cop shone it on Sylvie. Roscoe turned. The concealer was smudged around her scar.
"Officer, really, is this necessary?" Sylvie's voice was exasperated, and had a Manhattan accent she hadn't had before, one that made her sound scary-aggro. "It was just the heat of the moment."
Roscoe touched his lips and his finger came back with a powdering of concealer and a smudge of lipstick.
"Yes, ma'am, it is. Sir, could you step out of the car, please?"
Roscoe reached for his seatbelt, and the flashlight swung toward the back seat. The cop's eyes flickered behind him, and then she slapped for her holster, stepping back quickly. "Everyone hands where I see them NOW!"
Fucking Marcel. Jesus.
She was still fumbling with her holster, and there was the sound of the car door behind her opening. "Liz?" a voice called. The other cop, her partner. 4th and Walnut. "Everything OK?"
She was staring wide-eyed now, panting out puffs of steam. Staring at the rear window. Roscoe looked over his shoulder. Marcel had a small pistol, pointed at her.
"Drive, Roscoe," he said. "Drive fast."
Moving as in a dream, he reached for the ignition. The engine coughed to life and he slammed it into gear, cranking hard on the wheel, turning away from the cop, a wide circle through the empty parking lot that he came out of in a an uncontrolled fishtail, swinging back on forth on the slick paving.
He regained control as they crested the ridge and hit the downhill slope back to the highway. Behind him, he heard the cop-car swing into the chainlink fence, and in his rearview mirror, he saw the car whirling across the ice on the parkinglot, its headlights moving in slow circles. It was mesmerizing, but Sylvie's gasp snapped him back to his driving. They were careening down the hill now, tires whining for purchase, threatening to fishtail, picking up speed.
He let out an involuntary eep and touched the brakes, triggering another skid. The truck hit the main road still skidding, but now they had rock-salt under the rubber, and he brought the truck back under control and he floored it, switching off his headlights, running dark on the dark road.
"This isn't safe," Sylvie said.
"You said 'Drive fast,'" Roscoe said, hammering the gearbox. He sounded hysterical, even to his own years. He swallowed. "It's not far."
"What's not far?" she said.
"Shut up," he said. "OK? We've got about five minutes before their backup arrives. Seven minutes until the chopper's in the sky. Need to get off the road."
"The safe house," Marcel said.
"SHUT UP," Roscoe said, touching the brakes. They passed an oncoming car that blinked its high-beams at them. *Yes, driving with my lights off, thank you,* Roscoe thought.
Roscoe hadn't been to the safe-house in a year. It was an old public park whose jungle-gym has rusted through and killed a kid 18 months before. He'd gone there to scout out a good repeater location, and found that the public toilet, behind the chain-link fence, was still unlocked. He kept an extra access-point there, a blanket, achange of clothes, a first-aid kit, and a fresh license-plate, double-bagged in kitchen garbage bags stashed in the drop-ceiling.
He parked the truck outside the fence, snugged up between the bushes that grew on one side and the chain-link. They were invisible from the road. He got out of the truck quickly.
"Marcel, get the camper-bed," he said, digging a crowbar out from under his seat and passing it to him.
"What are you going to do?" Sylvie asked.
"Help me," he said, unlatching the camper and grabbing a tarpaulin. "Unfold this on the ground there, and pile the stuff I pass you on top of it."
He unloaded the truck quickly, handing Sylvie the access-points, the repeaters, the toolboxes and ropes and spraycans of camou colors. "Make a bundle of it," he said, once the truck was empty. "Tie the corners together with the rope. Use the grommets."
He snatched the crowbar away from Marcel and went to work on the remaining nuts holding down the camper bed. When he had the last one undone, he jammed the pry-end of the bar between the lid and the truck and levered it off the bed. It began to slide off and he grunted "Get it," to Marcel, but it was Sylvie who caught the end.
"Over the fence," he gasped, holding up his end while he scrambled into the back of the truck. They flipped it over together, and it landed upside-down.
A car rolled past. They all flinched, but it kept going. Roscoe thought it was a cop-car, but he couldn't be sure. He stilled his breathing and listened for the chop-chop of a helicopter, and thought that, yes, he heard it, off in the distance, but maybe getting closer.
"Marcel, give me that fucking gun," he said, with deceptive calmness.
Marcel looked down at the snow.
"I will cave in your skull with this rod if you don't hand me your gun," he said, hefting the crowbar. "Unless you shoot me," he said.
Marcel reached into the depths of his jacket and produced the pistol. Roscoe had never handled a pistol,a nd he was surprised by its weight -- heaver than it looked, lighter than he'd thought it would be.
"Over the fence," he said. "All of us." He put the gun in his pocket. "Marcel first."
Marcel opened his mouth.
"Not a word," Roscoe said. "If you say one goddamned word, either of you, you're out. We're quits. Fence."
Marcel went over the fence first, landing atop the camper-bed. Then Sylvie, picking her way down with her toes jammed in the chain-link. Roscoe set down the crow-bar quietly and followed.
"Roscoe," Sylvie said. "Can you explain this to me?"
"No," Roscoe said. "Sylvie, you stay here and cover the camper bed with snow. Kick it over. As much as you can. Marcel, with me."
They entered the dark toilet single file, and once the door had closed behind them, Roscoe pulled out his flashlight and clicked it on.
"We're not going home ever again. Whatever you had in your pockets, that's all you've got. Do you understand?"
Marcel opened his mouth and Roscoe lunged for him.
"Don't speak. Just nod. I don't want to hear your voice. You've destroyed my life, climbing that tower, pulling that gun. I'm over, you understand? Just nod."
Marcel nodded. His eyes were very wide.
"Climb up on the toilet tank and pop out that ceiling tile and bring down the bag." He aimed the flashlight to emphasize his point.
Marcel brought down the bag and Roscoe felt some of the tension leak out of him. At least he had a new license-plate and a change of clothes. It was a start.
Sylvie had covered the bottom third of the camper-bed and her gloves and boots were caked with snow. Roscoe set down the trash-bag and helped her, and after a moment, Marcel pitched in. Soon they had the whole thing covered.
"I don't know that it'll fool anyone who walks over here, but it should keep it hidden from the road, at least," Roscoe said. His heart had finally begun to slow down and he was breathing normally.
"Here's the plan," he said. "I'm going to swap the license plates and drive into town. Sylvie lies down on the back seat. They're looking for a truck with three people in it and a camper-bed. Marcel, you're walking. It's a long walk. There're some chemical hot-pads in the first-aid kit. Stuff them in your boots and mitts. Don't let anyone see you. Find somewhere to hide until tomorrow, and then we'll meet at the Donut House near the Rainbow Bridge, 8AM, OK?"
Marcel nodded mutely. The snow was falling harder now, clouds dimming the moonlight.
Roscoe dug out the hot-pads and tossed them to him. "Go," he said. "Now."
Wordlessly, Marcel climbed the fence and started slogging toward the highway.
They watched his back recede, then Roscoe jumped the fence with the trashbag. He dropped it in the back of the truck and hauled his tarpaulin-bundle back to the playground side, then dragged it into the bathroom. It was too heavy to get into the drop-ceiling and the drag-marks in the fresh snow were like a blinking arrow anyway. He left it on the floor.
He helped Sylvie over the fence, then hunkered down, using a small wrench to remove the plates from the truck. Sylvie crouched beside him, holding the flashlight.
"Did you know he had a gun?" Sylvie said, as he tightened down the bolts.
"No," Roscoe said. "No guns. We don't use guns. We're fucking network engineers, not pistoleros."
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